20 Under 200 – A Summer Reading List

20 under 200 -2

Like so many others, I’ve decided to do something about those huge piles of unread books and not buy so many new ones anymore. Quite a few of the bloggers I know have joined Eva Stalker’s #TBR20 project. The idea is to pick 20 books from your piles and not buy any new books before you read those.

A similar initiative is Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer. Both sound great, but I felt like giving them a twist and that’s why I’ll start my own project called 20 under 200. I’ve chosen 20 books from my piles, which are all under 200 pages. Ideally, I won’t buy any more books until I’ve read those. I will however allow myself to read other, longer books from the piles or exchange some that are on the photos against other novels under 200 pages.

20 under 200

Interestingly, the pile is very diverse, although I didn’t plan that at all. I think I managed to find books from 14 different countries: Japan, Korea, US, UK, Canada, France, Italy. Belgium, Iran, Germany, Poland, Norway, Finland, Argentine.

I was not surprised to see how many books under 200 pages I own. I could easily have added another 20 or 40. I’ve always had a preference for shorter novels.

On to the books:

Tarjei Vesaas – Spring Night (1964, Norway). Vesaas is a Norwegian author whose books won many prizes. He was a candidate for the Nobel Prize in 1964, 1968, and 1969. The book tells the story of one nigt in the life of Sissel and her brother Olaf. They are alone on their parents farm when a strange family whose car has broken down, descends on them.

Luise Rinser – Septembertag (1967, Germany). Luise Rinser is very famous and highly acclaimed in Germany, but not many of her books have been translated. Septembertag – A Day in September – is creative nonfiction. It’s the account of one day. At the time she was living in Rome. I wish more of her books had been translated. I’ve never read anything by her that wasn’t profound and poetic.

Wlodzimierz Odojewski When the Circus Arrived (2000, Poland) Polish author Wlodzimierz Odojewski’s book is another one that hasn’t been translated. The book contains two novellas. I’ve read an excerpt of one and was stunned. The way history is blended into the narrative was masterful.

Banana Yoshimoto – Asleep (1992, Japan) The book contains two novellas. Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto is one of my favorite writers, so I’m looking forward to return to her. In the blurb the stories are called “nostalgic, exquisitely sad, and delicate like gossamer”. Sounds promising.

Amélie Nothomb – Barbe Bleu (2012, Belgium) Amélie Nothomb is a Belgian writer, writing in French. She was born in Kobe and spent her first years in Japan. I’ve only read one of Nothomb’s novels and wasn’t so keen on it. I found it a bit cold and aseptic. But when I saw this book I had to get it because I’m fascinated by Blue Beard. Many authors, like Margaret Atwood, have been inspired by Blue Beard. I’m very curious to see what she made of it. I’m not sure this has been translated but usually all of her books are.

Patrick Modiano – L’horizon – Horizon (2010, France)  This is only one of a few Modiano novels I have on my piles. He’s another author whose every book I used to read until I needed a pause. As much as I appreciate and love him, he can be a bit repetitive at times. But it’s time to get back to him. Like in most of his novels, he blends history and memory in L’horizon. His characters are always looking for lost time. I was so glad when I discovered he’d won the Nobel Prize.

Alice Hoffman – Nightbird (2015, US) Alice Hoffman’s latest novel is a YA novel. I’ve only read her books for adults so far. This is the story of a family secret. “A gorgeously bewitching tale of magic love and stretching your wings,” says the blurb.

Margaret Atwood – The Penelopiad (2005, Canada) I’ve had this for so many years, it’s about time I read it. The retelling of the story of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, in form of a chorus of voices. It’s a technique I find highly fascinating.

Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending (2011, UK) I’m late for this one. I think it would be easier to name the bloggers who haven’t read it than those who have. I’m particularly interested in the ending of the novel because it has generated such a controversy.

Mary Robison – One D.O.A. One on the Way ( 2009, US) The story is set in New Orleans and told in vignettes. Mary Robison is famous for being unpredictable. I’ve only read her short stories and was impressed. I’m sure this will be just as amazing.

Kim Young-Ha – I Have the Right to Destroy Myself (2011 ?, Korea) This book is said to blend art and reality. Critics call Korean writer Young-Ha urban and edgy.  Many of  his novels have been translated into English. I Have the Right to Destroy Myself  tells, among other things, the story of a love triangle.

Kristina Carlson – Mr Darwin’s Gardener (2009, Finland) Finnish author Kristina Carlson’s novel is a historical novel, set in Kent in 1870 and tells the story of Darwin’s gardener, Thomas Davies, a grief-stricken widower who has lost his faith.

Toni Morrison – Home (2012, US) I have read two of Morrison’s books so far and while I liked and admired Beloved I didn’t get along with Jazz. Home is her latest and, according to the reviews I read, her most readable. The story begins with a letter from a woman the protagonist has never met. “Come fast. She be dead if you tarry”. Sounds intriguing. I liked the idea that it explores the meaning of “home”. I often wonder myself.

Simenon – La Chambre Bleue – The Blue Room (1963, Belgium) This is one of Simenon’s romans durs – not one of his Maigret novels. It says on the cover: “Simenon’s gripping novel about lives transformed by deceit and the destructive power of lust.” It’s just been made into a movie.

Stewart O’Nan – The Odds (2012, US) Another favorite writer. It’s the story of a weekend. “A tender, bitter-sweet exploration of faith, forgiveness, and last chances.”

Italo Calvino – The Invisible Cities (1972, Italy) Italo Calvino was an Italian writer. The Invisible Cities is a series of short and very short fiction blending history, realism and fantasy. Calvino called the book “a love letter to the city”.

Adolfo Bioy Casares – The Invention of Morel (1964, Argentina) A fantastic exploration of virtual realities that Borges compared to The Turn of the Screw. An Argentinian classic.

Renata Adler – Speedboat (1971, US) Another experimental novel. The blurb says: It has been more than thirty-five years since Renata Adler’s Speedboat charged through the literary establishment, blasting genre walls and pointing the way for a newly liberated way of writing. This unclassifiable work is simultaneously novel, memoir, commonplace book, confession, and critique. It is the story of every man and woman cursed with too much consciousness and too little comprehension, and it is the story of Jen Fein, a journalist negotiating the fraught landscape of contemporary urban America. Her voice is cuttingly perceptive, darkly funny, and always fiercely intelligent as she breaks narrative convention to send dispatches back from the world as she finds it.

Jenny Offill – Dept. of Speculation (2014, US) This got much praise when it came out last year. It was called one of the most unusual books by many. “Written with the dazzling lucidity of poetry, Dept. of Speculation navigates the jagged edges of modern marriage to tell a story that is darkly funny, surprising and wise.” From the book: “They used to send each other letters. The return address was always the same: Dept. of Speculation.”

Sadegh Hedayat – The Blind Owl (1957, Iran) Possibly Iran’s most famous novel. Hedayat has been compared to Kafka and Chekhov. The novel has been forbidden for decades. I’m a bit wary because it’s said to be so depressing. It has even led to a wave of suicides. But it’s said to be as beautiful and poignant and the despair it describes is one most humans face at some point. “A haunting tale of loss and spiritual degradation.”


I think those books will keep me busy this summer. What about you? Do you have summer reading plans?

If you like, you can join me in the 20 under 200 project and join, at the same time, Eva’s or Cathy’s projects.

78 thoughts on “20 Under 200 – A Summer Reading List

  1. What a great pile of books! I read The Sense of An Ending last year as part of 20 Books and I really enjoyed it. Will look forward to hearing what you think of it. Best of luck with your great challenge!

  2. What a great idea! I was picking some books from my to-read shelves, but didn’t know what criterion to use. First, I went for non-fiction, but that seemed too heavy-going. Instead, I chose a book from every shelf so I have 7 books for July, just a random selection really.

    Have fun with your books. I loved The Sense of an Ending – I don’t know the others.

    • Thanks, Judith. Yeah, I felt like giving the challenge/project a theme. Nonfiction would have been a bit heavy, I suppose.
      I’ll be looking for your choices. I’m already tempted to pick the Barnes first.

  3. What a wonderful list, Caroline. It’s so cool that you included Stuart O’Nan – he is from my city! I think you’ll like The Penelopiad a lot. I loved Beloved and feel the same about Jazz. I am going to copy this list and try out the authors I’m not familiar with. Thanks again for exposing us to great literature!

    • Thanks. Jolene. I’m glad you like it. I didn’t know you were from the same city. He doesn’t write about it often though or does he?
      How interesting that you felt the same about Beloved and Jazz. Jazz was such stroppy thing. I was surprised when I looked at the books more closely to find 14 countries.
      I’m pretty sure I will like The Penelopiad. One of my stories has a similar structure.

      • My favorite Morrison book is truly Sula. Have you ever read _Tinkers_ by Paul Harding? I’ve taught the book and it is under 200 and the structure is very interesting as is the medical subjects within. Maybe for your next list!!!

        • OOPs. Typo… “as are the medical subjects” (I am getting the knack of this iPhone but not how to correct my constant mistakes… :+) . . . )

        • Lucky me, I’ve got Sula here! But not Tinkers. I was tempted a few times but now, after your recommendation, I’ll think about it more seriously. Not just yet though – I need to shrink those piles. In my head I’m already compiling new lists.

  4. Great list. I did struggle a little with invisible cities although I do love Calvino. I’m struggling with my TBR stack. I just posted a photo of my crazy pole in Twitter with the hopes that people help me pick. I need to stop buying new books until then

      • I’ll definitely look back to see what you thought of Invisible Cities. It was my least favorite of his. I posted the photo on our blog post today so it may be easier to find there (it’s at the bottom). Any suggestions are welcome on what I should get to next 🙂

  5. You are going to read The Sense of an Ending! I can’t wait to see what you make of it. I’ve read 2 of the author’s books and liked them both. I’m so excited you picked this one.

    • I’ve read Flaubert’s Parrot years ago and really liked it. I’m very curious about The Sense of an Ending. I remember the discussion on Andrew’s blog. I think he had 400 comments.

  6. So many gems! Thanks for sharing the awesome suggestions, I’ll have to add a few to my list.

    If you’re ever interested in some other great book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!

  7. Dear Carolyn, I didn’t even know that Julian Barnes had written a novel called “The Sense of an Ending” in 2011, but you can imagine my confusion, because there’s a very famous critical work by the scholar Frank Kermode called “The Sense of an Ending” which came out before that. Though I will probably get around to reading Barnes’s book just out of curiosity if nothing else, I always find it a bit frustrating in one of those rare instances when an author deliberately gives his or her book a title which has already been used. But then, maybe it’s referential, in which case that would be natural to do–do you happen to know if he mentions his famous predecessor in any of the dedications or notes or etc.?

    • I’m glad to surprise. 🙂
      No, I don’t know if her references him but knowing you, I’m sure you’ll love to ponder the ending, which is, appropriately ambiguous. Or so I heard. I hoep we get to it at the same time or son and ca discuss it.

  8. Great spin on what was already a great idea.

    It’s a really diverse list, very impressive.

    The Calvino is a little gem. I think both Speedboat and Speculation deserve their very high reputations, although I sense a little bit of a counter-flow of opinion for the latter. Morel I didn’t “get” but is very interesting. Simenon is always a strong choice.

    Lots of the other names are ones I will need to look out for. It’s great to get new pointers from these lists. Funnily, Modiano had never taken my fancy. Interested to see what you think of him.

    • Thank you, Ian. I was surprised when I saw the completed piles. Maybe there are more books under 200 pages in other countries than the US or UK? Not sure. I just know if I ever write another one, it will be just as diverse.
      I don’t think there’s a week novel among those I chose but there are cerzainly some I’ll like and “get” more than others. I’ve heard good things about Speedboat but I guess it might be a challenging book. I higly recommend Modiano’s Villa Triste. I loved that book.

  9. A great selection of books, Caroline – very inspiring. I loved Speedboat, in fact, I probably made an error in leaving it off my end-of-year highlights last year (it was a close-run thing). I’m looking forward to reading your take on it.

    I’ve read a couple of novels by Vesaas — The Ice Palace and The Birds — both excellent. There’s something very affecting about the simplicity of this author’s prose. Spring Night sounds excellent – I may even have a copy of it somewhere as I know I have another Vesaas on one of the shelves.

    It looks as if you’ve got a wonderful summer of reading ahead of you. Wishing you well with your 20 under 200. Glad to hear you’re going to keep things flexible – that type of approach worked for me with the TBR20.

    • Thanks, Jacqui. I’m so glad to hear you liked Speedboat. I think it’s on Max’s #TBR20 list as well. I wasn’t sure whether to pick The Ice Palace or Spring Night as my first Vesaas novel but the deiced to buy this one. Now, I know, if I like it, there’s more to look forward to. I hope to make good progress witth my list but I also wanted flexibility. As long as I’m reading mostly from my piles.

  10. Great idea. I’m doing #20booksofsummer too. There are lots on your pile that I don’t know. I read Sense of an Ending a few years ago and I read The Penelopiad recently.

  11. Oh, great list, Caroline. I’ll be interested in your opinion of Dept. of Speculation. Very unusual, but I’m glad I read it.
    I’m guilty of buying too many books lately and would never last through 20 before buying another one. 🙂

  12. Great idea. I haven’t done anything as formal as this but I started off the year planning to read some of the books that have been languishing on my shelves for the last two or three decades waiting for me to finally read them. Haven’t done as well as I’d hoped, but I have knocked six of them off the TBR list and I’m hoping to do better during the second half of the year.

    Do you guys look upon library books as the same thing as buying books…as regards this challenge? That’s my biggest weakness. I just brought home to very long novels this morning, in fact.

    • Thanks, Sam. That would have been a theme too – 20 than have been languishing for more than a decade.
      As fars as I saw – poeple include libraray books and really stick to their own piles. I guess it depends on what your aim is. I, for example, make exceptions for e-books because it’s more about space than anything else. And rediscoevr what I have. Six is already not bad, I’d say. Good luck with sticking to the piles.

  13. Hi Caroline – Indeed U am seeing that many bloggers are taking on this challenge.

    I have taken the opposite approach. I have completely abandoned ant attempts to read books just because they are in my house. Instead I am reading what I want to, whether it is in the house or not. I am also not buying books ahead of time.

    It looks like a very interesting bunch of books that you have lined up. I just finished Margaret The Penelopiad. I loved it, I will be blogging about it in a few weeks. I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on it.

    • Oh, that’s great news about The Penelopiad. It will be great to compare notes.
      It’s wise not to buy books ahead of time.
      I guess I’ll read whatevre I like as well but I hope not to buy more until I finished these twenty.

  14. Caroline: You might be interested in the fairly recent film version of the Blue Room after you’ve read the book. I watched it just a few weeks ago.

    I hope you enjoy the Stewart O’Nan. The Odds convinced me to read more of his work. I liked The Odds but didn’t love it. I’ve since read two more of his books. Really liked the one and didn’t like the other much (about F S. Fitzgerald)

    • I’m very tempted to watch that film, that’s why I added the book to the list. I’ve read Last Night at te Lobster which I loved and Snow Angels which I’ve totally forgotten. I still got Wish You Were Here as well.

  15. Wonderful list, Caroline! I love the name you have given for your reading project – ’20 under 200′ 🙂 So nice to see the Tarjei Vesaas book on your list. I recently read one of his books and loved it. I love the title ‘Spring Night’. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it. Love Wlodzimierz Odojewski’s name – such an excellent tongue twister 🙂 I have an Amélie Nothomb book at home, but it is in French and my French right now is very rusty and so I want to do a crash course at home and improve it before tackling her book. I remember reading a review of her novel which is set in Japan and liking it. So nice to see Mary Robison and Julian Barnes in your list. Love Robison’s short stories. Hope you enjoy this novel of hers. I can’t wait to find out what you think of ‘The Sense of an Ending’. I loved it when I read it. It was interesting to read Victoria’s (ShadowOperator) comment that there is a Frank Kermode book with the same title. I have read excerpts from Kermode’s work and he is one of the great literary critics and a wonderful writer. Now, I am thinking that I should read this book of his. I didn’t know that Simenon wrote other novels also. I have read only his Maigret ones. Hope you like this. One of my bookclub mates read Sadegh Hedayat’s ‘The Blind Owl’ last year and he was raving about it. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. Happy reading, Caroline!

    • Thanks, Vishy. I wouldn’t never dare ordering a Wlodzimierz Odojewski novel in a book shop. So difficult to pronounce. 🙂
      I’ll have to look up the Kermode book as well. I never heard anyone make the connection but who knows. I looking forward to the Julian barnes discussion. I’m sure there will be one.
      Simenon has written as many non Maigret novels as Maigret novels. They are much darker than the Maigret’s.
      I’m a bit scared The Blind Owl might be too depressing but eveything I read about it made me want to read it. The author is buried on the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
      Your recent comment reminded me of Spring Night. Too bad you didn’t revoew the book your read.

  16. I am intrigued by Wlodzimierz Odojewski — and true to your word his work is not available in English translation. Perhaps if I tried the German, I might labor through it. It’s amazing how the naive ear can hear plain truth.

    • What I’ve read so far was amazing. He would deserve being translated into English. I didn’t know you spoke German. I sometimes like to read in languages I’m not entirely fluent in.

  17. I’ve seen this (or variations thereof) mentioned by other bloggers–it is a great idea, though I have been particularly bad lately about buying new books. I am borrowing far fewer library books so I guess I feel the need to make up for not having those shiny new books in my hands by buying them! Not a good solution. I like the diversity of your piles–I have read Renata Adler, but not the one you have in your pile–she is an interesting writer. I also read the Atwood and liked it very much. I am just enjoying my mysteries–lots of them this summer and for July and August I am trying to whittle down and finish my in progress reads–I have gotten terrible about starting new books on every little whim–my reading is so wonky, so I am trying to focus on finishing for a while….

    • Since the books are short and the list divers, I feel it’s doable. And I can still branch out as long as I read from the piles. Plus – making a list is always great. 🙂
      How odd, I thought that’s the REnata Adler you’ve read as well. I’m glad to hear you liked The Penelopiad.
      I’ve been bad with stating new books as well. That needs to stop. It’s confusing me.

  18. I like your twist of under 200 pages. I set up a list of 20 books for summer to combine with my Japanese literature challenge, and then along comes Paris in July and Spanish lit month, both of which I love. So, the best laid plans…thrown away again. But, you can do it!

    I have Asleep by Yoshimoto on my list. I’ll try to get to it along with you this season.

    • Thansk, Bellezza. GReat news about Asleep. It would be so great to read it with you. When will you get to it?
      Yes, the bets laid plans. I’ve got a bit for all the challenges on my list. And the books are nice and short.

  19. A really good idea, although it’ll still take me ages to read twenty books even if they are all under two hundred pages. I may think about this challenge. It would have to exclude books i have to get for book group though, of course. Fortunately I’m all set for the next two months.

    I will have to peruse my shelves for short reads.

    • Thanks, Fiona. Glad you like it. This is the only way I might have a chnace to actually do it. Twenty longer books? No way. But I’m not sticking to these twenty only. As long as I read from the shelves, all’s good. 🙂

  20. A great twist on the idea, why have I only just come across it now? Anyway, I’ve managed to speed through my #TBR20 (on 16 now) and am then planning to do a bit of an e-book challenge afterwards. It’s not just the lack of physical space on the shelves, but the mental pressure as well in my case. And I do love my library books too…

    • Thanks, Marina. You can always do this version at a later date. In my case it wasn’t only because the book’s are short but I really do have a lot of books under 200 and for some reaons, thye tend to be more varied.
      I know the mental pressure as well.

  21. Lovely blog, Caroline. 🙂 I couldn’t contain my excitement as I went through your list, for I am a sucker for short books. While I don’t see myself joining ‘TBR20’, I look forward to reading many of the books in your list. Thank you once again. 🙂

    • Thanks, Deepika. I’m glad to find another “short book lover”. 🙂 I really do. Of course, I like a chunky book, now and then, but overall, I love the short ones.
      I hope you’ll find some titles you’ll enojoy on my list. I just finished the first The Sense of and Enidng and hope to write about it soon.

  22. This is a great idea. Ever since we moved into a much smaller flat, I haven’t been buying many physical books. I just don’t have the space. I like the variety of your choices.

  23. Pingback: Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending (2012) | Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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